#ColoradoRiver: The latest E-Newsletter is hot off the presses from @WaterCenterCMU #COriver

How much water reaches the Westwater stretch of the Colorado River, and then Lake Powell, is taking on increasing importance to Colorado water officials. A new study is underway to look at much more water is available to develop on the Western Slope, and it’s caught the attention of east slope water officials. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

Click here to read the newsletter. Here’s an excerpt:

UPPER COLORADO FORUM PROGRAM

The draft program for the 2017 Upper Colorado River Basin Water Forum, which will be held at CMU Nov 1-2, is now posted here, along with registration, sponsorship and lodging information. The forum will showcase stories that illuminate the challenges and complexities involved in trying to understand Upper Colorado River Basin water issues and manage water in new ways. Speakers will include scholars, water managers and policy leaders from across the Upper Basin.

Ritschard Dam work pushed to 2018

A graphic of the issues at Ritschard Dam from the Colorado River District

From the Sky-Hi Daily News (Lance Maggart):

Officials from the Colorado River District, which owns and operates Wolford Mountain Reservoir, announced in spring 2016 that they were scrapping plans to conduct a multimillion dollar rehabilitation project on Ritschard Dam, which when full holds back Wolford’s 66,000 acre-feet of water. At that time the district announced it would initiate an earthwork project to restore the dam to its original height after several years of settling dropped the dam’s crest by roughly one-and-a-half feet.

District officials, however, announced plans this week to postpone the dam heightening project until 2018.

Jim Pokrandt, spokesperson for the river district, explained the decision was based on several factors including that the project is still working through the permitting process and officials were concerned about a late start for construction and the potential for bumping up against colder weather.

Pokrandt further noted that 2017 has been a very busy construction season and bids on the project would have been high.

“This is still a good project and it needs to be done. It will just take another year,” Pokrandt said.

The River District had previously planned to draw down Wolford to accommodate the earthwork but the recent announcement means accelerated drawdowns will not occur.

According to Ray Tenney, Deputy Chief Engineer for the District, for the remainder of summer and fall, the usual and expected water deliveries for contract and endangered fish habitat purposes will occur, resulting in a typical seasonal drawdown of about 10 feet in water elevation in coming months.

Wolford’s recreational amenities, including camping, boating, fishing, and day-use, will still remain open to he public.

#ColoradoRiver: #MX and #US close to signing Minute 323 #COriver

Colorado River Basin, USBR May 2015

From The Palm Springs Desert Sun (Ian James):

Mexican and American officials are finalizing a water-sharing deal for the Colorado River, and a newly released summary of the accord’s key points shows negotiators have agreed on a cooperative approach geared toward boosting reservoir levels and trying to stave off a severe shortage.

The document, which federal officials have circulated among water agencies, outlines a series of joint measures that build on the current 5-year agreement, which expires at the end of this year.

The new accord – titled Minute No. 323 to the 1944 Mexican Water Treaty – is expected to be signed sometime this fall, perhaps as early as September, and would remain in effect through 2026.

It would extend provisions in the current agreement, known as Minute 319, that specify reductions in water deliveries during a shortage, as well as increases in water deliveries during wet periods. The agreement also provides for Mexico to continue storing water in Lake Mead, near Las Vegas, helping to boost the reservoir’s levels, which in the past few years have dropped to historic lows.

The accord would also establish a “Binational Water Scarcity Contingency Plan,” in which Mexico would join U.S. states in temporarily taking less water out of Lake Mead to reduce the risks of the reservoir reaching critical levels.

Those commitments by Mexico would only take effect if California, Arizona and Nevada finish their own Drought Contingency Plan, under which the states would forgo larger amounts of water than they’ve previously agreed to as the reservoir’s level declines.

“The Mexicans have demonstrated their interest in pursuing this, and it’s a clear benefit to the river to have more storage in Lake Mead,” said Bart Fisher, chairman of the Colorado River Board of California. He said the agreement would benefit water suppliers in California, Arizona and Nevada by giving them “certainty in case of shortage that Mexico will also share in the shortage.”

“All of those things put together, it’s a big win-win for both countries,” Fisher said…

Talks on the U.S.-Mexico agreement began during President Barack Obama’s administration and have continued with negotiating sessions held on both sides of the border by the International Boundary and Water Commission, which includes representatives of both governments. Representatives of U.S. states have also participated in the talks.

Even as political tensions have grown over Trump’s immigration policies and his vows to have Mexico foot the bill for a border wall, the Colorado River negotiations seem to have moved ahead relatively smoothly – pressed on by the approaching expiration of Minute 319.

“We largely concluded the framework for these negotiations a year ago,” Fisher said, “and the only fine-tuning has been the drought contingency portion, and cleaning up a little bit of inconsistent language.”

The agreement itself has not yet been publicly released. The summary provided by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation was presented Wednesday at a board meeting of the Imperial Irrigation District, which holds the biggest single entitlement to water from the river.

In a memo, IID officials said in order to implement the U.S. commitments under the deal, several agreements must first be completed between the states, water agencies and the Interior Department.

Those agreements include a U.S.-funded program to invest $31.5 million in water conservation projects in Mexico, including infrastructure upgrades such as concrete lining for leaky canals and other improvements to reduce water losses from distribution systems.

The federal government will provide $16.5 million, while the remaining $15 million will come from four water agencies, including IID, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, the Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Central Arizona Water Conservation District.

Each of the water agencies will contribute a fourth of the funding. In return, they will receive a portion of the water freed up through conservation in Mexico.

The conservation projects are intended to generate a total of 229,000 acre-feet of water – enough to cover an area two-thirds the size of Los Angeles with a foot of water. Of that, 50,000 acre-feet will be used to give a boost to the Colorado River system and 70,000 acre-feet will be used to “satisfy the U.S. commitment to provide water for the environment.”

The accord lays out a cooperative strategy for Mexico and the U.S. states to jointly put the brakes on water use to reduce the risks of a crash in the system if the drought persists.

As of this week, Lake Mead stands at just 38 percent full, with its level at an elevation of nearly 1,080 feet, not far above the initial shortage threshold of 1,075 feet…

In April, the Bureau of Reclamation estimated the odds of Lake Mead hitting shortage levels in 2019 at 31 percent. A previous projection had put the odds at 50-50 before the winter brought a substantial snowpack, which was measured at 113 percent of average across the Colorado River basin.

The government’s summary of Minute 323 says the United States and Mexico “share a common vision on a clear need for continued and additional actions to reduce the risk of reaching critical reservoir elevations at Lake Mead.”

The document details how continued declines at the reservoir would trigger a rising scale of cutbacks in water deliveries, with Mexico contributing alongside the states – as long as the states have a similar plan in place.

By developing this type of plan to reduce water use effectively, the aim is to reduce risks of severe shortages threatening water deliveries and the generation of hydroelectricity, said Jennifer Pitt, who leads the National Audubon Society’s Colorado River project.

“It’s avoiding the shocks of sudden disruptions in water supply that is most important,” Pitt said. “But with these agreements, where the states and countries … commit together to a planned decrease in water use, I think the prospects for sustainable management increase greatly, and likely without severe economic impacts.”

The U.S.-Mexico deal includes a list of other measures, including establishing several joint working groups to focus on issues such managing the river’s salinity and optimizing flows to benefit the environment.

One of the groups, according to the government’s outline, will focus on studying the potential for desalinating seawater from the Sea of Cortez…

Under Minute 319, which was signed in 2012, the U.S. and Mexico agreed to an experiment: a one-time release of water into the parched delta that would resemble a natural flood.

That “pulse flow,” which gushed into the delta for eight weeks in 2014, temporarily reconnected the river with the Gulf of California, bringing a bloom of cottonwoods and willows along its path and attracting birds.

In Minute 323, there is no mention of plans for another “pulse flow.” This time, the focus is instead on securing a more steady flow of water to sustain wetlands south of the border. Goals include expanding restored habitat areas from about 1,000 acres to 4,300 acres.

Under the agreement, Mexico, the U.S., and nongovernmental organizations will team up to secure water for environmental purposes, plus $18 million for habitat restoration and monitoring.

“It seems like everybody’s in agreement on how to address these challenging issues,” said Tina Shields, IID’s water manager, who presented an overview of Minute 323 to the district’s board.

Southeastern Colorado Water inks agreement with Fountain and Fort Carson for hydro project

The new north outlet works at Pueblo Dam — Photo/MWH Global

From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Conrad Swanson):

The Southeastern Colorado Water Conservancy District and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates the Pueblo Dam, signed an agreement last week allowing for the soon-to-be-built plant to connect to the dam, Chris Woodka, the district’s issues management program coordinator, said in a release.

The agreement was signed after the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously approved the creation of a military sales tariff on Tuesday. The tariff will cover costs for Colorado Springs Utilities to act as an intermediary, buying power from the district and selling it to Fort Carson.

With all the necessary agreements in place, the district hired Mountain States Hydro, LLC, to build the $19 million plant, Woodka said. Construction will begin in September and the plant should be operational by the spring.

Half of the electricity from the plant, estimated to be up to 7.5 megawatts, will be sold to Fort Carson and the other half will be sold to Fountain Utilities.

The plant is expected to generate about $1.4 million in revenue each year, Woodka said.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Jon Pompia):

“This is a monumental moment in the history of the district,” said Jim Broderick, the district’s executive director. “We have been working to put all of the pieces in place since 2011. Now that this project is coming to fruition, it represents not only a sustainable income stream for our stakeholders, but develops a clean source of power for the future.”

Added Chris Woodka, the district’s issues management program coordinator, “The Lease of Power Privilege clears the way for the hydropower plant to connect to Pueblo Dam, a federally owned structure. Mike Ryan, director of the Great Plains Region for Reclamation, signed the lease Friday.”

In order to satisfy all federal requirements related to the project, members of the district have been working for the past 18 months to put a series of other agreements in place.

“The district has contracted with Mountain States Hydro, LLC, to build the plant,” Woodka said, “with construction to begin in September. It is scheduled to be completed during the fall and winter months when releases from Pueblo Dam generally decrease.”

It’s anticipated that the plant will be online by spring 2018.

The plant will cost about $19 million to build. Last year, the district secured a $17.2 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, with the district’s business enterprise providing matching funds.

Over time, those funds will be paid off by revenues from the sale of power.

For a decade, power from the plant will be purchased by the city of Fountain and by Colorado Springs Utilities for use at Fort Carson.

“After that, Fountain intends to purchase all of the power for at least 20 more years,” Woodka said.

The plant will generate up to 7.5 megawatts of power by using three turbines capable of producing power from 35 to 800 cubic feet per second of flow in the Arkansas River. Water will pass through a connection that was built into the service line for the Southern Delivery System, then into the Arkansas River.

Projections by district staff show that an average of 28 million kilowatt hours will be produced annually, with about $1.4 million in average revenue per year.

This money will be used to pay off the CWCB loan and to satisfy contractual agreements with the Bureau of Reclamation, as well as a carriage agreement with Black Hills Energy. All remaining funds will go to enterprise activities, including the Arkansas Valley Conduit.